HARVARD — School Committee member Stuart Sklar said he’d like the public to have a better understanding of the Open Meeting Law.
Sklar read the portion of Massachusetts General Law that states the legal parameters of a public meeting at the Oct. 9 School Committee. It says a public meeting is any meeting consisting of a quorum of board members during which town business is discussed.
With the only exceptions outlined in other provisions of the law, such as those that define “executive session,” all such meetings must be duly posted and open to the public.
But the issue goes beyond chapter and verse, said Sklar.
“Remember, we don’t get to rehearse,” he said. “It’s hard to think out loud with no opportunity to confer with other members.”
He was referring to an impromptu session the committee held during the Aug. 7 Board of Selectmen meeting. The two boards met on that date to appoint a new School Committee member.
With three candidates to choose from, selectmen Chairman Lucy Wallace asked for a recommendation from the School Committee and suggested members might want to talk about it first. They did so, in a separate room, with the door closed.
The district attorney’s office, responding to a citizen’s complaint, later said the short side conference was, in fact, a public meeting.
In a letter widely circulated a couple of weeks ago, the office determined the committee’s actions were illegal, cited the open meeting law and basically told the committee not to do that again. The district attorney also asked for minutes from that meeting.
Members discussed those minutes, created after the fact, at the outset of the recent School Committee meeting. They talked briefly about information that should be included to provide an accurate account, such as the names of all three candidates, not just that of the member they chose, Virginia Justicz.
The minutes were amended accordingly and accepted by unanimous vote.
It’s ironic that it wasn’t the committee’s idea to confer in a separate room, member Jeff Shaw said later. It did so at the selectmen chairman’s suggestion, he said.
Sklar’s comments covered the tenor of the times and the spotlight that incident and others have put the committee in lately.
“It’s not easy to be a target all the time,” he said. “I’d like people to be more familiar with the laws we live by.”